Summary of Goodridge v. Department of Public Health
Facts: In April of 2001, advocates for GLAD (Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders) filed suit against the Massachusetts Department of Health in Superior Court on behalf of seven same-sex Massachusetts couples. All of the named couples had been denied same-sex marriage licenses in March and April of 2001. The plaintiffs were all in long-term, monogamous relationships; some couples had children. The Department was responsible for setting policies regarding the issue of marriage licenses, among other things. The Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the Department, affirming its right to deny the plaintiffs marriage licenses. The plaintiffs appealed the ruling to the Supreme Judicial Court. In the appeal, Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly argued that the issue of “the broader public interest” should prevail. If the Court were to do so, they would realize that because “same-sex couples cannot procreate on their own and therefore cannot accomplish the ‘main object’…of marriage as historically understood," they were not legally deserving of the right to get married.
Issue: The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that Department of Health had erred by not issuing marriage licenses to the same-sex couples who had applied for them.
Holding: The Court indicated that the State may not “deny the protections, benefits and obligations conferred by civil marriage to two individuals of the same sex who wish to marry.”
Majority Opinion Reasoning: The Court reasoned that pursuant to the state’s constitution, “the dignity and equality of all individuals" “forbids the creation of second-class citizens," which would most assuredly be created by the systematic denial of marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The Court also reasoned that the State had no rational interest to deny constitutionally protected state rights on higher, federal due process and equal protection concepts.
Dissenting Opinion: Justices Cordy, Spina, and Sosman provided dissenting opinions and argued that whereas it may not be the State’s place to legislate personal liberty issues, the issue of marriage is a civil institution that most definitely could not be legislated from the bench via the courts. By default, the State had an interest in promoting and advocating what it believed to be the optimal situation for bearing and raising children, the argued foundation of marriage.
Conclusion: The case was pivotal because it ushered in the introduction of legal gay marriages in the state of Massachusetts.